Today, 25 Feb 2012, is the feast day of St Nestor, Bishop and martyr of the early Church. He gave public witness to his faith in the true God in the general persecution conducted in the reign of the Roman emperor Decius. With God’s help he remained steadfast and gave his flock an inspiring example of how to face martyrdom.
During these early days of Lent it seems like the good Lord is giving us a steady diet of martyrs’ lives to reflect upon. So many of these martyrs I had never heard of before, and yet each of their stories has left a deep impression. Being reminded of the ultimate sacrifice of these martyrs reminds us forcibly that God is real and that He is more than worthy of such radical sacrifice. It is a great antidote to offline and online conversations I have been privy to in recent days about why non-attendance at Sunday Mass is a mortal sin and why the Eucharistic fast prior to receiving Holy Communion is so important. Only those who do not have an active respect for God as the mighty Creator and Redeemer of the Universe are interested in how little they can get away with – unlike these holy martyrs who desired to worship God to the greatest extent possible. May the holy martyrs continue to jolt us out of our complacency.
Back to St Nestor. When the persecution began Nestor was the bishop of Magydus, a coastal settlement in the province of Pamphilia (now a part of Turkey). Nestor was well respected as a bishop not only by his own flock, but also by the pagans of the district. Following Decius’ rise to power he determined to wipe out Christians across the Roman empire. To do this he sent out an edict that everyone had to sacrifice to the Romans gods by a certain date and obtain a certificate to say that they had done so. Non compliance meant prison and torture.
Obviously there was a lot of pressure to conform, but Nestor refused to do so. Since the risk of apostasy was so great, Nestor sent most of his flock into hiding. People observe what their leaders do, and since the respected Nestor was refusing to obey Decius’ edict it gave others courage to do the same. The local governor, Pollio, quickly realised that Nestor had to be dealt with if he wanted to impress Decius with how well he had enforced the edict. Nestor also knew that his arrest was inevitable, but he took no measures to protect his safety. Calmly he waited and prayed. Sure enough, Nestor was arrested and brought before the magistrate. So many people tried to persuade him to sacrifice to the gods, and offered him nudge-nudge wink-wink arrangements to safe his life – but Nestor would have none of it. God’s laws were far more important to him than the emperor’s laws. Into prison he went.
While in prison Nestor had a vision of a lamb being led to slaughter upon an altar. He took this as a promise from Jesus that he would achieve martyrdom. Next Nestor was brought before the governor himself. The governor tried persuasive words first, but to no avail. Torture didn’t work either. Having his flesh torn with iron hooks did not change Nestor’s mind about sacrifcing to the gods. Seeing that his subject was intractable, the governor handed Nestor over to be crucified. As Nestor endured the sufferings that would conform him so closely to Jesus his Master the Christians knelt and prayed. Even pagans were so profoundly touched by the crucifixion of Nestor that some of them knelt down and prayed side by side with the Christians. The year was 251.
May the witness of St Nestor help those in positions of Christian leadership to give similar example to their flocks of putting God’s laws first at all times, especially when it is unpopular or dangerous to do so.
St Nestor, pray for us.